Lincoln Elementary is truly a family affair — not just in community spirit, but DNA.
The school has a uniquely high number of parents who work in the school in different capacities, from para-educators to cafeteria employees.
“They are really invested in their children’s education,” said Lincoln Elementary School Principal Maureen Oman.
Hiring parents — an effort that took off 4-5 years ago, Oman said — started with an English class that started more than a decade ago at the school. Yesica Guzman, a bilingual para-educator at the school, has been involved in the effort before its beginnings.
“I would have never thought 11 years ago when I volunteered to do English classes that this would make Lincoln School what it is today,” Guzman said.
“We needed to open the communication between the school and the parents,” she said. “That was the whole idea. Now a lot of us — including me — are working here.”
Like the school’s student body, parent-employees come from a variety of backgrounds; some aren’t native English speakers. These parents learn enough English to work as para-educators.
Oman said having bilingual educators has done wonders for the school. “I think it alleviates some of the barriers,” she said.
From helping with handwriting skills to helping little hands crack open milk cartons, the parents actively are involved in not only their own children’s education, but other children at the school.
Para-educator Maria Corona said that is what she has experienced in her four years at Lincoln Elementary.
“I love my job because I really think that I can make a difference on students, by giving them that extra help or that extra time one-on-one. Also I feel loved by the kids,” Corona said. “They make me laugh and they make my day when I need a few more hugs during the day. I believe that kids feel loved, too.”
Graciela Alegria is a pre-K para who counts herself among the family educators. Alegria has been at Lincoln Elementary since 2017.
“Being here with the preschool is great,” she said. “I like to see former students grow and see how much they’ve changed and accomplished throughout the years.”
Leticia Reyes, also an para-educator, has been with Lincoln Elementary for four years. Her intentions at the beginning weren’t necessarily to work at the school, but said when the chance came up it was the right decision.
“I started out as part of a group of mothers who attended English classes in this school,” Reyes said. “One day I was given an opportunity to work here and be part of this wonderful family. For me this school not only has given me a job but an opportunity to see the extraordinary job that this school has done for my children.”
Bilingual para-educator Lety Acosta also called working at Lincoln Elementary an opportunity.
“It is very gratifying to see that you contribute to their learning in a positive way and to feel the love that they show you,” Acosta said. “Lincoln School has done so many things for me and my family and we feel blessed to belong to it.”
Debbi Hopkins, a cook at Lincoln Elementary, has a past with the school stretching beyond her 24 years of employment at Lincoln.
“Lincoln Elementary has always been a part of my family,” Hopkins explained. “My father-in-law, husband, all of my children and two grandchildren attended this school.”
Corona said her family has been touched by Lincoln Elementary well beyond the classrooms, thanks to the parent-hiring efforts.
“This job has given me the opportunity to spend more time with my daughters because when they are out of school I am off work, too,” Corona said. “That way I don’t worry about day care and at the same time it allows me to bring an income to my home.”
Acosta said her family has had an experience not unlike Corona’s.
“(The school offers) us programs of different types such as English classes, family fun events, support issues for our children,” Acosta said. “They seek resources from the school, they keep the mother group active which has contributed to forming friendship ties in the neighborhood and make us feel the best we can be.”
That’s exactly the point, Guzman said.
“It helps open the communication between the families and the school,” Guzman said.
The bonus? Helping kids, whether connected to employees through DNA or solely the heart, be their best selves. Guzman said,
“It’s just nice to see them grow — first grade, second grade ...”
The students are watching the parents, too, Oman said.
“Our kids see them as role models and parents; they feel safe,” she said. “This is our school home.”
Jessica Votipka is the education reporter at the Grand Island Independent. She can be reached at 308-381-5420.